Is globalization the enemy?

This week we are exploring the reasons behind the incredible drop in worldwide extreme poverty: from 90% in 1800 at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to less than 10% today.  

And falling.

The United Nations has set a target of “ending extreme poverty for all people everywhere” by 2030.  

What accounts for this incredible drop?

Yesterday, we looked at three reasons outlined by Steven Radelet, author of The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing Worldas quoted in Steven Pinker‘s Enlightenment Now.

Today, we turn to reasons four and five.

Reason #4 for the dramatic decline in worldwide extreme poverty: Globalization.  “In particular the explosion in trade made possible by container ships and jet airplanes and by the liberalization of tariffs and other barriers to investment and trade,” writes Steven Pinker.  “As countries specialize in different goods and services, they can produce them more efficiently, and it doesn’t cost them much more to offer their wares to billions of people than to thousands.  At the same time buyers, shopping for the best price in a global bazaar, can get more of what they want.

“Notwithstanding the horror that the word elicits in many parts of the political spectrum, globalization, development analysts agree, has been a bonanza for the poor,” notes Steven.  He quotes Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton, who said: “Some argue that globalization is a neoliberal conspiracy designed to enrich a very few at the expense of many.  If so, that conspiracy was a disastrous failure—or at least, it helped more than a billion people as an unintended consequence…” 

“While working on the factory floor is often referred to as sweatshop labor,” observes economist Steven Radelet, “it is often better than the granddaddy of all sweatshops: working in the fields as an agricultural day laborer.” 

He shares his own experience visiting Indonesia in the early 1990’s to conduct research:  “I arrived with a somewhat romanticized view of the beauty of people working in rice paddies, together with reservations about the rapidly growing factory jobs.  The longer I was there, the more I recognized how incredibly difficult it is to work in the rice fields.  

“It’s a backbreaking grind, with people eking out the barest of livings by bending over for hours in the hot sun to terrace the fields, plant the seeds, pull the weeds, transplant the seedlings, chase the pests, and harvest the grain.  Standing in the pools of water brings leeches and the constant risk of malaria, encephalitis, and other diseases.  So, it was not too much of a surprise that when factory jobs opened offering wages of $2 a day, hundreds of people lined up to get a shot at applying.”

Kavita Ramdas, the head of the Global Fund for Women, said in 2001 that in an Indian village “all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children.”

Steven Pinker shares data from a Bangladesh study which confirms women who worked in the garment industry (as Steven’s grandparents did in 1930s Canada) “enjoyed rising wages, later marriage, and fewer and better-educated children.  Over the course of a generation, slums, barrios, and favelas can morph into suburbs, and then working class can become middle class.”

Industrialization of the developing world has produced poor working conditions that are “harsh by the standards of modern rich countries and have elicited bitter condemnation,” notes Steven.

Consumer protests and pressure from trade negotiators has resulted in “measurably improved working conditions in many places, and it is a natural progression as countries get richer and more integrated into the global community,” notes Steven.

Progress does not mean “accepting every change as part of an indivisible package—as if we had to make a yes-or-no decision on whether the Industrial Revolution, or globalization, is a good thing or bad thing, exactly as each has unfolded in every detail,” Steven observes.  

“Progress consists of unbundling the features of a social progress as much as we can to maximize the human benefits while minimizing the harms,” writes Steven.

Reason #5:  Science and technology.  “Life is getting cheaper, in a good way.  Thanks to advances in know-how, an hour of labor can buy more food, health, education, clothing, building materials,” Steven writes.  

“As for good advice on health, farming, and business: it’s better than cheap; it’s free.” 

More than half of the adults worldwide own a smartphone.

“In parts of the world without roads, landlines, postal service, newspapers, or banks, mobile phones are more than a way to share gossip and cat photos; they are a major generator of wealth,” Steven writes.  “They allow people to transfer money, order supplies, track the weather and markets, find day labor, get advice on health and farming practices, and even obtain a primary education.”  

Access to information about medicine, electronics, crop varieties, and best practices in agriculture, business, and public health has made a huge impact. 

“According to one estimate, every cell phone adds $3,000 to the annual GDP of a developing country,” Steven writes.

But what about growing income inequality?

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Am I surprised by the data above?  Why or why not?  

Action: Share this information with a friend or colleague who is convinced we live in the “worst of times.”

Why has extreme poverty decreased so dramatically?

“In 1976,” Steven Radelet writes, “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: 

“He died.”

Yesterday, we looked at the staggering drop in worldwide extreme poverty: from 90% in 1800 at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to less than 10% today.  

What accounts for this incredible drop?

Five reasons, says Radelet, author of The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing Worldas quoted in Steven Pinker‘s Enlightenment Now.

Reason #1: The decline of communism.  “Market economies can generate wealth prodigiously while totalitarian planned economies impose scarcity, stagnation, and often famine,” writes Steven Pinker.  “A shift from collectivization, centralized control, government monopolies, and suffocating permit bureaucracies to open economies took place on a number of fronts beginning in the 1980s.  

“They included Deng Xiaoping’s embrace of capitalism in China, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its domination of Eastern Europe, and the liberalization of the economies of India, Brazil, Vietnam, and other countries.

“Though intellectuals are apt to do a spit take when they read a defense of capitalism, its economic benefits are so obvious that they don’t need to be shown with numbers,” Steven writes. 

The difference can be seen from space.  

“A satellite photograph of Korea showing the capitalist South aglow in light and the Communist North a pit of darkness vividly illustrates the contrast in the wealth-generating capability between the two economic systems, holding geography, history, and culture constant,” Stephen notes.

The sharp contrast can also be seen between West and East Germany when they were divided by the Iron Curtain; Botswana versus Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe; Chile versus Venezuela under Hugo Chávez.  Once upon a time, Venezuela was a wealthy, oil-rich country.  Now it suffers from widespread hunger and a critical shortage of medical care.

Reason #2: Leadership.  “Mao imposed more than communism on China,” Steven Pinker writes.  “He was a mercurial megalomaniac who foisted crackbrained schemes on the country, such as the Great Leap Forward (with its gargantuan communes, useless backyard smelters, and screwball agronomic practices) and the Cultural Revolution (which turned the younger generation into gangs of thugs who terrorized teachers, managers, and descendants of “rich peasants”).

“During the decades of stagnation from the 1970s to the early 1990s, many other developing countries were commandeered by psychopathic strongmen with ideological, religious, tribal, paranoid, or self-aggrandizing agendas rather than a mandate to enhance the well-being of their citizens,” Steven notes. 

With the spread of democracy in the 1990s and 2000s, new humanistic leaders emerged, including Nelson Mandela, Corazon Aquino, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as well as local religious and civil-society leaders who acted to improve the lives of their country men and women.

Reason #3: The end of the Cold War.  “It not only pulled the rug out from under a number of tin-pot dictators but snuffed out many of the civil wars that had racked developing countries since they attained independence in the 1960s,” Steven Pinker writes.

Civil war is both a humanitarian and economic disaster.

“Facilities are destroyed, resources are diverted, children are kept out of school, and managers and workers are pulled away from work or killed,” Steven observes.  He quotes economist Paul Collier, who calls war “development in reverse,” and estimates the typical civil war costs a country $50 billion.

So far we’ve covered three of the five primary reasons for the dramatic drop in extreme poverty.  

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Am I surprised by the data above?  Why or why not?  

Action: Share this information with a friend or colleague who is convinced we live in the “worst of times.”

A modern-day economic miracle?

1: Imagine this headline: Number of People in Extreme Poverty fell by 137,000 yesterday.

Actually, the newspapers could have run that headline every day of the last 25 years, notes Dr. Max Roser in Steven Pinker‘s powerful book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

Many people believe we are living in the worst of times.  

The data is crystal clear: These people are wrong, Steven writes.  

Exhibit one: The chart showing the percentage of the world’s population who live in “extreme poverty.”  

“In 1800, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, most people everywhere were poor,” Steven notes.” The average income was equivalent to that in the poorest countries in Africa today (about $500 a year in international dollars), and almost 90 percent of the world lived in what counts today as “extreme poverty” (less than $1.90 a day).”

Today, less than 10 percent of the world’s population live in extreme poverty.  

That’s an “economic miracle.”  

Actually, that’s the power of capitalism.  

By 1975, the U.S. and Europe had completed what Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton calls the “Great Escape.”  Since then, most of the rest of the world has followed suit.  Almost half of the drop in extreme poverty has happened in the last 35 years.  “The world had become richer and more equal,” Steven writes.  

2: “Most surprises in history are unpleasant surprises, but this news came as a pleasant shock even to the optimists.  In 2000, the United Nations laid out eight Millennium Development Goals,” writes Steven.  “At the time, cynical observers of that under-performing organization dismissed the targets as aspirational boilerplate.  Cut the global poverty rate in half, lifting a billion people out of poverty, in twenty-five years?  Yeah, yeah. 

“But the world reached the goal five years ahead of schedule,” Steven observes. 

“This is perhaps the most important fact about well-being in the world since World War II,” notes Angus.

“The consequences for human welfare involved are simply staggering,” states Nobel Prize winning economist John Lucas, “Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.

3: Is it possible we will eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime?

The short answer?  Yes.  

In 2015, the UN set a target of “ending extreme poverty for all people everywhere” by 2030.  

The point of calling attention to this incredible progress is not self-congratulation.  Instead we are wise to identify the causes “so we can do more of what works,” Steven writes.  

And, clearly, there’s work to do: “Hundreds of millions of people remain in extreme poverty, and getting to zero will require a greater effort than just extrapolating along a ruler,” Steven observes.  “Though the numbers are dwindling in countries like India and Indonesia, they are increasing in the poorest of the poor countries, like Congo, Haiti, and Sudan, and the last pockets of poverty will be the hardest to eliminate.  Also, as we approach the goal we should move the goalposts, since not-so-extreme poverty is still poverty.”

What are the causes of this “economic miracle”?  

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Am I surprised by the data above?  Why or why not?  

Action: Share this information with a friend or colleague who is convinced we live in the “worst of times.”

Why onboarding is the biggest opportunity to create a Best Place to Work

1: One of Ritz-Carlton’s strategies to engage their workforce is to create a memorable first day at work .

Same for us at PCI. 

“You only get one chance to make a great first impression.”  

I’m convinced onboarding is the single biggest opportunity for many organizations to significantly improve their workplace cultures.

Getting better at onboarding certainly has made a big difference at PCI.

About 10 years ago, I had the privilege of attending “Get Plussed” at Talent Plus, a talent management firm we work with specializing in selection, development, and analytics.  Talent Plus repeatedly shows up on Fortune’s Best Places to Work lists.

During Get Plussed, the professionals from Talent Plus share best practices they have learned on how to build a great workplace culture, including how they do onboarding.

Recommendation #1: Have an onboarding day on which all new hires begin their employment.  At PCI each month we have a specified onboarding day on which all new hires start.  

Recommendation #2: Make it memorable.  We call our onboarding day “notthetypicialfirstday@work” a play on our notthebigcompany branding.

2: We begin by rolling out the red carpet.  

Literally.  In the pre-pandemic world, new hires would be greeted by a red carpet which they would walk upon to enter our office.  

Next, we gather everyone together – previously in person, now virtually on Zoom.  Included are all the new hires along with their new managers plus a number of our senior leaders, including our Chief Operating Officer and myself, the CEO.

The presence of our top leaders is intended to send a message:  This is important.  You are important.  

“Listen to what people say,” I tell them.  “But watch what they do.  That will tell you what is important to them.”

I will be spending a majority of my day with them.  Why?  Because today is an opportunity for PCI to get better.

How does an organization get better?  By hiring great people!  

“Each of you showed up this morning with talent, knowledge, wisdom, experience, and passion,” I tell them.  “Our bet is when you contribute your talent, knowledge, wisdom and passion, we are going to get better as an organization.”

If I believe this – and I do – then spending a majority of my day with them is the single most important thing I can do this day. 

I then share that the reason each of them is here is because they share our five values.  Before we ever looked at their experience and skills, we first screened them to see if there was a values fit.  Only then, do we consider all the information on their resume.

After my opening remarks, we transition into “Focus on You,” an exercise designed by Talent Plus.  The symbolism is key: in their very first meeting at PCI, we “focus on you” – our new hires.

All of us are given a few minutes to fill out the Focus on You form which includes your name, “hot buttons,” i.e. things you are passionate about and enjoy, a personal and professional success, and a personal and professional goal.  

I kick things off with sharing my answers and then select someone to go next.  This process continues until each person has presented.

3: After lunch, I return and spend 90-minutes walking the new hire group through our notthebigcompany booklet which lists the five key elements of our culture, what we call our 5byFIVE: 

i: Our purpose: to inspire dreams and transform lives

ii: Our vision: To earn a spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies in the world

iii: Our goal: Every client should be referenceable

iv: Our five client promises (how we achieve our goal): Be proactive.  Be accountable. Be trustworthy.  Be positive.  Be passionate.

v: Our five values: Pursue Excellence Purposefully, Unlock Human Potential, Act with Integrity, Innovate a Culture of Relationships and Fun, and Lead with a Servant’s Heart

This session is one I always look forward to because sharing the “whys” and “how’s” of our 5byFIVE is one of my favorite things I get to do.  There’s always lots of questions and discussion.  Between this exercise and Focus on You, I have the opportunity to really get to know each of our new hires on their very first day of work – which has tremendous benefit going forward for them and for me.

Other agenda items for notthetypicalfirstday@work include presentations by other leaders on (1) Servant Leadership, our leadership model at PCI, (2) how we “Add the Wow” to make every client referenceable, and (3) an overview by our training team on the path forward.

The goal for our notthetypicalfirstday@work is for our newest associates to feel welcomed and comfortable.  Because only then will they be able to contribute all of their talent, knowledge, wisdom, experience, and passion.

_______________________

Reflection:  Might any of the ideas above translate to my organization?

Action: Discuss with my team or a colleague.

 What is a “non-negotiable” for Ritz-Carlton to engage it’s Ladies and Gentlemen?

Select. DevelopEngage.

These words are at the heart of Ritz-Carlton’s three people processes which result in a powerful, positive workplace culture where team members are inspired to create memorable experiences for hotel guests.

Client delight begins with engaged Ladies and Gentlemen, what Ritz-Carlton calls its employees.

Today, we turn to how Ritz-Carlton engages it’s Ladies and Gentlemen.

Strategy #1: The “Daily Line-Up.”

The Daily Line-Up occurs in every day in every department of every Ritz-Carlton hotel around the world.  This practice is another Ritz-Carlton “non-negotiable.”  

The 10-15 minute meeting is an exercise in communication and alignment.  Everyone on the team receives the same message.  

The agenda begins with sharing the “Gold Standard” of the day.  Next, associates recognize other associates for providing legendary service with the presentation of “First-Class Cards.”  Then, the team celebrates birthdays and service anniversaries.  Finally, a leader reviews any property-specific information (VIPs, guest opportunities, financial information).

Strategy #2: Rewards and Recognition

The presentation of First-Class Cards during the Daily Line-Up is a key element of Ritz-Carlton’s recognition strategy.  The person being recognized receives the First-Class Card which details the nature of the exceptional service performed.  Also, they are recognized in front of their peers.

Ritz-Carlton also does a “Five-Star” award program each quarter to celebrate associates who set the standard in dedication to their work, positive attitude and overall best-in-class performance.  These awards typically include a sizable cash reward.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  What regular, recurring meetings or events could my company use to strengthen our workplace culture?

Action:  Lead a discussion with a colleague or with my team about how we might learn from and apply some of the Ritz-Carlton practices

How Ritz-Carlton hires the top 2% in the service industry

This week we are exploring “the system behind the smiles”: three key “people processes” Ritz-Carlton uses to create world-class guest experiences.  These best practices were shared by Ritz-Carlton as part of a six-hour virtual training I had the privilege of attending earlier this year. 

1: Happy clients are the foundation of all successful companies.  Happy clients buy more and tell their friends.  

Happy clients = Happy company.

But Ritz-Carlton understands memorable customer experiences which lead to “happy clients” will not happen without highly engaged, empowered Ritz-Carlton staffers.  

Their philosophy?  

“Employee engagement ties to client engagement.”  If we want happy engaged clients, it begins with happy, engaged associates. 

[Aside: “Happy associates = Happy clients” is the PCI business strategy.]

2: Today, we look at Ritz-Carlton’s robust talent selection process.  

Their goal?  

To select “the top 2% of people in the service industry.”  Ritz-Carlton believes there is simply no substitute for talent.  The best of the best.  No compromises.  The firm subscribes to the old adage: “Hire slow.  Fire fast.”

Their selection process is based on finding associates who possess the key competencies the hotel has identified that lead to success.  Many of the capabilities they look for are “soft skills,” including passion, perseverance, fire, and drive.  

Candidates begin by taking a timed, online assessment which seeks to identify people who possess a deep sense of service.  Ritz-Carlton believes someone can’t be taught to care.  

“You can teach someone the technical skills for a position or a role, but you can’t train them to have a sincere, caring attitude for others.  Particularly for customer-facing roles and front-line positions, we’re looking for someone with a service mentality.  If you don’t have that genuine desire to serve, it’s not going to come across as authentic, and our guests will know it,” says Jamey Lutz, author and former Ritz-Carlton Performance Improvement Leader.

Next, they conduct multiple rounds of interviews with potential candidates, including situational interviews where applicants are asked how they would respond in different scenarios. 

3: Selecting the right people is a key component of how Ritz-Carlton evaluates leaders.  Leaders understand they are accountable for the performance of the people they hire.

The final step in the process is to spend five minutes with the General Manager of the property.  No offer letter is given without this key step.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  How would I rate my firm’s selection process?  Are we identifying and selecting the right talent?

Action:  Seek out a colleague and discuss.

How does Ritz-Carlton “operationalize” memorable customer service?

1: How does Ritz-Carlton consistently deliver world-class customer service across more than 100 luxury properties and more than 40,000 staffers?

How does the firm “operationalize” its motto of “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”?

Earlier this year I had the privilege of participating in a six-hour virtual training during which two answers became apparent.

Number one: “Employee engagement ties to client engagement.”  The hotel believes that memorable customer service does not happen without highly engaged, empowered Ritz-Carlton staffers.  

Number two: The firm has developed a set of highly specific “people practices” to select, develop, and engage Ritz Carlton staffers.

2: Today, we explore how Ritz-Carlton continues to develop associates after their onboarding day.

It begins with classroom training to teach “The Ritz-Carlton legendary manner of service to all Ladies and Gentlemen.” 

All new hires are taught “The Three Steps of Service.”

1: A warm and sincere greeting.

2: Use the guest’s name. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.

3: A fond farewell. Give a warm goodbye and use the guest’s name.

Next, a keen focus on practicing key service behaviors, empowerment, and problem resolution.  Throughout the onboarding process, “Learning Coaches” provide hands-on training. 

And finally: Practice, practice, practice!

Prior to joining their team, all new hires must achieve operational certification on specific skills and behaviors.  Legendary service requires flawless processes.  New hires are evaluated against the hotel’s Gold Standards.  During their first year, the newly hired “Ladies and Gentlemen” complete two evaluations to measure knowledge and performance.  All Ritz-Carlton staffers must be re-certified in their position every year.

3: There are three other milestone days for all new hires during their first year.  

On Day 21, new staffers participate in an additional day of classroom training.  Why Day 21?  It takes 21 days to form a habit.  The trainers aim to re-energize the Gold Standards and provide feedback to each new associate on what is working and what needs improvement.  The goal is to make corrections early.  There is also a “Gold Standards Philosophy and Culture quiz.”

There is another structured check-in with new staffers on Day 182, the half-way point of their first year.

On Day 365, there is a celebratory event rather than more classroom training.  Ritz-Carlton’s research shows that if a new hire makes it to the one year mark, it is likely they will become a long-time associate.

The goal throughout the Ritz-Carlton onboarding process is to engage each associate fully.  

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  What specific ideas from Ritz-Carlton could my organization utilize to develop new hires?

Action:  Do it.

What does it mean to be “Ritz-Carlton proud”?

In past weeks, we’ve explored Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to delivering “memorable customer service.” RWD, RWD, RWD.  This week we will explore “the system behind the smiles”: three key “people processes” Ritz-Carlton uses to create world-class guest experiences. I learned about their approach participating in a virtual training offered by Ritz Carlton called “Best Practices & Foundations of Our Brand.”

1: It begins with onboarding.  

All Ritz-Carlton new hires start on the same day.

Why?

Before being allowed to do anything in their new role, all Ritz-Carlton new hires must complete an intensive two-day orientation led by senior leadership.  

No exceptions.  A Ritz-Carlton “non-negotiable.” 

2: The objective of the orientation is to introduce new associates to the company, the brand, and their hotel, as well as to Gold Standards and the Ritz-Carlton service excellence culture .  

“We set the expectations very high,” we were told during the virtual training.  “There is no room for error.”

The orientation includes a presentation by the hotel general manager on the Ritz-Carlton Credo.

The goal?

Service excellence every day.

3: At the end of the first day, the trainer explains the Ritz-Carlton approach and standards may not be for everyone.  They ask: “By a show of hands, does anyone think Ritz-Carlton is not for you?”

For those who stay the expectations are clear.

“Every guest.  Every time.  Always.  With a big smile.  And a love for what you do.”

This is what it means to be “Ritz-Carlton proud.”

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Evaluate my company’s onboarding process.  What could we learn from Ritz-Carlton?

Action: Do it.

A secret to creating a great workplace culture

Holding an action-packed, upbeat, informative quarterly “All-Hands” meeting is a key driver of building an inspired and engaging workplace culture.

The quarterly rhythm is key.  At PCI, we believe it’s important to gather all of our associates together regularly to build cohesiveness and connection and to keep everyone informed on how we are doing as an organization.  

At PCI, we call the quarterly get-together the “Not The Typical Quarterly Business Meeting.”  Which is a play on our NotTheBigCompany branding.  

Prior to the pandemic, I and a group of our senior leaders would travel to each of our four locations, Dallas, Virginia Beach, San Antonio, and Little Rock, to host a QBM.

The QBM is a high-energy event with music and typically food.  

The agenda is as follows:

Kickoff remarks by me.  I have fun and put a lot of thought into the kick-off message and exercise.  Many times my message is around our theme for the year.  Our 2021 theme is “Grateful Hearts,” which ties to our 100th year anniversary celebration.  Last year our theme was: “Trust: the one thing that changes everything.”  Other recent themes include: “Getting better at getting better,” “Add the Wow,” and “Be One,” the year after we merged with our biggest competitor.

This past January, I began our QBM by challenging all of our associates to keep a gratitude journal for the first 100 days of the year.  In April, we did the values exercise I wrote about last Friday.  For our recent July QBM, I shared a new product offering we are getting ready to launch.

Key metrics for the quarter, including financial performance.  We are big believers in transparency.  To make good decisions people need as much information as possible.  We share financial and performance data for all areas of the organization.  When the numbers are great, we celebrate.  When the numbers are bad, we talk about what needs to get done to address the issue.

Sharing metrics consistently is key and our QBM provides a great forum to do so.   

Next, we review our Vision-Traction Organizer (VTO), which is a term from EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System.  We’ve used the EOS framework to run PCI for four years now with tremendous success.  The VTO includes our values, our purpose, our three “uniques”, our 10-year vision, our 3-year picture, our 1-year plan, and our quarterly rocks, or key initiatives.  [Aside: I am a raving fan of EOS.  In future RiseWithDrews, I will break down some of the additional benefits.]   

The final agenda item is also the most important: recognition.  We recognize the top performing team for the quarter, our top sales performers, and then present our 5byFIVE awards, which celebrate associates for living PCI’s five values.

Logistics:

The meeting typically runs about 90 minutes.  

As we receive over 10,000 calls a day, we plan these meetings when call volume is lightest – either on Monday morning or Friday afternoon.

During the pandemic, we’ve been holding these gatherings virtually on Zoom.  There are definitely some benefits to having all 450 of our associates together at the same time.  But, we are really looking forward to being in-person again for our QBM’s starting in October.  The ability to gather together physically on a regular basis is key for us, especially as we will be a virtual organization going forward.

More next week!

___________________________

Reflection:  What areas of my life would benefit from a consistent, quarterly check-in? 

Action: Create a recurring quarterly meeting for any areas I’ve identified above.

Why Elon Musk uses simple words

Elon Musk is wicked smart.

“But when he explains technology to consumers he uses language even a sixth-grader can read,” observes Carmine Gallo in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Welcome everyone to the announcement of Tesla Energy.  What I’m going to talk about tonight is a fundamental transformation of how the world works, about how energy is delivered across Earth,” Elon Musk began his remarks about Tesla’s new Powerwall offering.

“This is how it is today.  It’s pretty bad.  It sucks.  I just want to be clear because sometimes people are confused about it.  This is real.  This is actually how most power is generated, with fossil fuels.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid readability test measures word length, sentence length, and other factors to assign a grade level for a specific text.  Articles in the Harvard Business Review are scored at grade level 17.  New York Times articles score at ninth grade.  “Texts to be read by the general public should aim for level of around 8.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Elon’s remarks above?

Sixth grade.

Elon continued: “The solution is in two parts.  Part one, the sun.  We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun.  You don’t have to do anything.  It just works.  It shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.”

Flesch-Kinkaid score?

2.9. Meaning a child finishing second grade gets it.  

What’s missing?

Talk about nominal current or amps at peak output or technical specs or backup applications.

Steve Jobs also understood the power of simple words.

In 2003, Steve transformed the music industry and persuaded millions of music fans to pay 99 cents per song when many were getting nothing for songs from peer-to-peer sharing sites like Napster.

“How much is 99 cents?  How many of you had a Starbucks latte this morning?” Steve asked.  “Three bucks.  That’s three songs.  How many lattes got sold across the U.S. this morning?  A lot.  Ninety-nine cents is pretty affordable.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Steve’s entire, unabridged introduction of iTunes?

4th grade.  Fourth graders could follow along.

Elon, Steve, and other effective communicators don’t use jargon or overly-technical phrases.  Instead, they carry the day with simple, straight-forward language.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection: Am I surprised by Elon and Steve’s communication style?

Action: Test my content for an upcoming presentation at www.readability-score.com

[Aside: I ran this post through the Flesch-Kinkaid readability test and scored grade 6.]

What was one of the secrets of Winston Churchill’s incredible ability to communicate and motivate?

It’s not what we think.

“Short words are best,” said Sir Winston.

“The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient,” Winston is quoted as saying in The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo.  “Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal to greater force.”

The manuscripts of Winston’s speeches show crossed-out longer words replaced with short ones.  “Liberated” became “freed.”

Take note of Winston’s famous observation about the British fighter pilots and bomber crews to establish air superiority over England against Hitler: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” 

“In six words, Churchill told the entire story of British courage and what it meant to the rest of the world: so much, so many, so few,” Carmine observes.  “Those six words summarize stories that fill entire books.”

Note also: only four words in Winston’s sentence are more than one syllable.

“While trying to look intelligent, a lot of people do things that make them look dumb,” says Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger.

We use big words in an effort to impress. 

“The exact opposite is true,” writes Carmine.  “If you want to sound smart and confident, replace big words with small ones.  Big words don’t impress people; big words frustrate people.”

Remember: Short words are best.

More tomorrow.

____________________

Reflection:  What can I learn from Winston’s suggestion about using short words?

Action:  Experiment with intentionally using short words in an upcoming talk or presentation.

How Winston Churchill overcame a shipwreck and changed history

Winston Churchill was 29 years old.  He was a newly elected representative to the House of Commons.  The year was 1911. 

His talk started off fine.  But then he experienced a moment we all fear in front of a large group: He forgot the rest of his speech.  For three long minutes he stood frozen in front of his new colleagues, Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storytellers Secret.

Winston heard the snickering and laughter of his political enemies.  “Worse, his supporters whispered to one another and looked at the floor in an attempt to disassociate themselves from the catastrophe unfolding in front of them,” writes Carmine.

He finally sat back down and covered his head in his hands.  He was sure his career was finished.

“Shipwreck” the newspaper exclaimed the following morning.  A well-known doctor remarked Winston was suffering from “defective cerebration,” or early senility.

Winston Churchill decided he would never make that mistake again. 

“From then on, he worked tirelessly to refine every word of every speech and made sure the only words he spoke were those he wrote himself and believed in with all his heart,” Carmine observes.

Fast forward thirty-six years to May 28, 1940. 

“Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe.  British soldiers were trapped at Dunkirk, and France was about to fall as German soldiers were marching toward Paris.  

“The British island was alone,” Carmine writes. 

As the newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston was under tremendous pressure from a majority of his cabinet to make a deal with Adolf Hitler.  “A majority of the British people agreed that only an agreement with Hitler would save them,” Carmine reflects.

Winston called a meeting on his entire cabinet.  He would not give in to the pressure: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground,” Winston asserted.

“In the span of two weeks and six speeches, Churchill successfully turned around public opinion.  An entire population ready to cave to Hitler’s demands was motivated to pick up arms and fight to the death,” observes Carmine.

“If you read the history of the period, you realize how close the British were to making a deal with Hitler.  If they had, Hitler would have remained unchecked and democracy would have been dethroned in much of the world, replaced with unconscionable evil, ‘the abyss of a new Dark Age,’ in Churchill’s words,” writes Carmine.

Winston’s early public speaking setback and his resulting determination to become a better speaker was “a triumph of effort and preparation” which changed the course of history.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  Looking at my past, are there any setbacks that fueled my desire to improve my abilities and capabilities?

Action: Take a moment to give thanks for Winston Churchill.

What’s the secret to moving an audience?

1: The words “I have a dream” were not in the original copy of Martin Luther King’s speech.  

“The sequence that made Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Dream Speech’ the greatest speech of the twentieth century had all been improvised,” writes Carmine Gallo in The Storyteller’s Secret.  

As Martin was reading from his prepared remarks, the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, shouted “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”

“Few people heard the shout,” Carmine writes, “but King did.  And he knew exactly what she meant.  King had used the metaphor in previous speeches, but he had no intention of revisiting it on the mall in Washington.  It was not included in the copy of the speech given to the press.”

What happened next changed history.

“Martin clutched the speaker’s podium, a hand on each side, leaned back, and looked at the throng of 250,000 or more assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial,” remembers Clarence Jones, Martin’s speechwriter.

He “watched as King set aside the prepared remarks,” Carmine writes.  “He knew what would happen next. ‘These people don’t know it yet, but they’re about ready to go to church,’ Clarence whispered to the person next to him.”

“I have a dream…” Martin exclaimed.

2: What are we to make of this incredible story?

When giving a talk, should we “wing it” and freely improvise with whatever comes to mind?

Not so fast, Carmine suggests.

“You may have heard about the ‘10,000-hour rule,’ Carmine states.  “Experts believe it requires about 10,000 hours of practice to be world class in a skill such as playing a sport, mastering music, or performing surgery.”

Turns out the 10,000 rule applies to storytelling and public speaking as well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered more than 2,500 speeches in his lifetime.  For each speech, if we assume two hours of writing and rehearsing, we come to 5,000 hours.  Then, adding the time Martin spent on his high school debate team plus hundred of sermons, he had easily had reached 10,000 hours of practice by August 28, 1963. 

“Inspiration takes practice,” writes Carmine.  “Steve Jobs meticulously rehearsed every keynote for weeks ahead of his famous product launches,” Carmine observes.

When we watch a moving TED talk, we see the finished product.  The 18-minute speech.  

What we don’t see?

The countless hours of preparation and rehearsals required to craft an inspiring story.  “Some famous TED speakers rehearsed their presentation up to 200 times before they delivered it on a TED stage,” writes Carmine.

3: To become a great storyteller we want to take every opportunity to hone our presentation skills.  Ronald Reagan spent decades working in Hollywood prior to being elected President.  As a spokesperson for General Electric Theater, he traveled around the country visiting GE labs and factories while delivering hundreds of speeches to 250,000 GE associates.  

We are also wise to be humble.  “Humility is a trait that most successful storytellers share.  Storytelling requires constant and never-ending trial and error,” Carmine writes.

After television producer Mark Burnett came up with the idea for Survivor, he worked relentlessly on his pitch, using friends as his initial audience.  “At first the pitch came out long-winded and over-complicated,” he recalls in The Storyteller’s Secret.  “As I perfected the pitch, making it faster and more fluid and always exciting, I noticed my dinner companions leaning in to hear each syllable.  Their eyes sparkled.”

After being turned down repeatedly, Mark’s preparation and perseverance paid off when CBS bought into his idea.  

Survivor became the number one reality series of all-time.  

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

More tomorrow.

____________________________

Reflection:  Consider a skill or capability I’m really good at.  How many hours have I spent practicing?  What is something at which I want to excel?  Am I willing to put in the necessary hours?  

Action:  Do it.

A 12-minute exercise that will change your life

Yesterday, we looked at the powerful benefits of writing about our values.  Let’s put this theory into action.  

When?  Right now.  This will take no longer than 12 minutes.

Step one: What are your values?  Click on this link and pick your top three values.  Values are simply what you care about.  Your values are what you feel is important and meaningful.  They can be an attitude, a strength, or even a community you care about.  Feel free to write down something that is not on the list.  

Step two: Once you’ve selected three values that are personally meaningful to you, select one of your values and write about it for ten minutes.  Describe why this value is important to you or how you live this value in your everyday life, including what you did today or yesterday.  If you are facing a difficult decision, consider how this value might guide you.  Keep your pen moving for ten minutes.

That’s it.  A minute or two of identifying your values.  Ten minutes spent writing about one value.

This exercise is included in Kelly McGonigal‘s brilliant book The Upside of Stress.  As Kelly notes, “People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”

All of our associates did this exercise last April as part of our most recent NotTheTypicalQuarterlyBusinessMeeting.  Also, known at PCI as our QBM.  

At the start of 2021, I had challenged all of our associates to keep a gratitude journal for the first 100-days of the year.

As part of our April QBM, I encouraged my colleagues to incorporate their values into their daily gratitude’s.  

Because the research shows that writing about our values in empowering.  “When people are connected to their values, they are more likely to believe they can improve their situation through effort and the support of others.  That makes them more likely to take positive action and less likely to use avoidant coping strategies like procrastination or denial,” Kelly writes.  

“They are also more likely to view the adversity they are going through as temporary, and less likely to think the problem reveals something unalterably screwed up about themselves and their lives,” she states.  “In other words, as you reflect on your values, the story you tell yourself about stress shifts.  You see yourself as strong and able to grow from adversity.”

Why is this exercise so powerful?

“The lasting benefits are not the direct result of the ten minute writing period,” Kelly concludes, “but of the mindset Tuesday’s RWD shift it inspired.”

__________________

Reflection: What are my most important values?

Action:  Select one value and write about it for ten minutes.  Extra credit: Journal about how I am living or experiencing my values each day for the next 21 days.  

How writing about our values can improve our lives  

Back in the 1990s a group of Stanford students agreed to keep journals over the winter break.  

“Some were asked to write about their most important values, and how the day’s activities related to those values,” writes Kelly McGonigol in The Upside of Stress.  “Others were asked to write about the good things that happened to them.” 

Yesterday, we explored how our mindset drives our behavior.  Our mindsets are also changeable.  The new field of mindset science demonstrates how even a single brief intervention designed to change how we think about something can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future.

Exhibit one: writing about our values.

When the Stanford students returned, the researchers asked each of them to write about their three-week break.   

“The students who had written about their values were in better health and better spirits,” Kelly writes.  “Over the break, they experienced fewer illnesses and health problems.  Heading back to school, they were more confident about their abilities to handle stress.  The positive effect of writing about values was greatest for those students who had experienced the most stress over break.”

When the researchers analyzed more than two thousand pages of the students’ journals, they observed writing about their values helped those students see the meaning in their lives. “Stressful experiences were no longer simply hassles to endure; they became expressions of the student’s values.  Giving a younger sibling a ride reflected how much a student cared about his family.  Working on an application for an internship was a way to take a step toward future goals.”

Moments that otherwise might have seemed annoying or tiresome became moments of meaning.

Dozens of similar experiments have been done since then.  “It turns out writing about our values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied,” Kelly states.  

In the short term, writing about our values makes us feel more powerful and in control as well as more loving, connected and empathetic to others.  

In the long term, writing about our values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and aid with everything from weight loss, quitting smoking, and persevere in the face of discrimination.

“In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention,” Kelly writes.  “People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”

________________________

Reflection:  What are some of my values?  What do I feel is important and meaningful in life?  

Action:  Write down my values.  Today.

Can how we think about something transform its effect on us?

1: Scientist Alia Crum has an unusual track record of high-profile findings.

“By changing how people think about an experience, she can change what’s happening in their bodies,” Kelly McGonigal observes in The Upside of Stress.  “Her work gets attention because it shows that our physical reality is more subjective than we believe.” 

What is the single idea that motivates Alia’s research?

How we think about something can transform its effect on us.

Can a three-minute video about the positive effects of stress alter the neurohormones in our brain which then impact how we react to stress?

In a word: yes.

“Her findings are so surprising,” Kelly writes, “that they make a lot of people scratch their heads and say, ‘Huh?  Is that even possible?'”

2: The key to understanding Alia’s research is to understand the power of mindset.  

A mindset is a set of core beliefs which reflect our philosophy of life.  “The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions,” Kelly writes. 

“A mindset is usually based on a theory about how the world works,” Kelly explains.  “For example, that the world is getting less safe, that money will make you happy, that everything happens for a reason, or that people cannot change.  All of these beliefs have the potential to shape how you interpret experiences and make decisions.”

Why are mindsets so important? 

Because our mindset determines how we think, feel, and act. 

“When a mindset gets activated—by a memory, a situation you find yourself in, or a remark someone makes—it sets off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how we respond to life,” Kelly explains.

And, “the consequences of a mindset snowball over time, increasing in influence and long-term impact.”

3: What’s most interesting, Kelly observes, is how “the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future.

More tomorrow.

_____________________

Reflection: What are some of the mindsets that reflect my philosophy of life?  Where and when did these mindsets begin?  Are they serving me in a positive way today?    

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

Can stress help us overcome trauma?

1: “In the late 1990s, an unusual experiment took place in the trauma center of an Akron, Ohio, hospital,” Kelly McGonigal writes in her terrific book, The Upside of Stress.

Patients who had recently survived a major car or motorcycle accident were part of a study on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The researchers set out to discover if they could predict who would develop PTSD based on their level of stress hormones immediately after the trauma.

Nine of the 55 patients were diagnosed with PTSD: “They had flashbacks and nightmares,” writes Kelly.  “They tried to avoid reminders of the accident by not driving, staying off highways, or refusing to talk about what happened.”

The other 46 patients did not suffer in the same way. 

The researchers suspected those with PTSD were likely those who were most stressed following their accidents.  

The researchers were wrong.

The 46 patients who did not experience PTSD had higher levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline than the nine diagnosed with PTSD.

“Cortisol and adrenaline are part of what scientists call the stress response, a set of biological changes that helps you cope with stressful situations,” Kelly explains. “Most people view the stress response as a toxic state to be minimized, but the reality is not so bleak.”

The research indicates our stress response is our best ally during difficult moments—something to rely on rather than an enemy to overcome.

2: The Akron PTSD study was the first of several showing a correlation between a stronger physical stress response and improved long-term recovery from a traumatic event.  

“One of the most promising new therapies to prevent or treat PTSD is administering doses of stress hormones,” writes Kelly.  “For example, a case report in the American Journal of Psychiatry describes how stress hormones reversed post-traumatic stress disorder in a fifty-year-old man who had survived a terrorist attack five years earlier. 

After taking ten milligrams of cortisol a day for three months, his PTSD symptoms decreased to the point that he no longer became extremely distressed when he thought about the attack.”  

Doctors are beginning to administer stress hormones to patients about to have traumatic surgery.  This approach is reducing time in intensive care and improving quality of life six months after surgery.

“Stress hormones have even become a supplement to traditional psychotherapy,” Kelly shares.  “Taking a dose of stress hormones right before a therapy session can improve the effectiveness of treatment for anxiety and phobias.”

We’ve been taught to fear stress.  Instead, we can learn to capitalize on it to support our resilience.

3:  These studies are supplemented by promising studies with animals.

Stanford biopsychologist Karen Parker studies the effects of early life stress on both humans and squirrel monkeys.  In one study, she introduced stress in young monkeys by separating them from their mothers and placing them in an isolated cage for one hour per day.  “In many ways, that makes it an excellent model for ordinary childhood stress,” Kelly observes.

The results surprised Karen.  She predicted that the stress of being separated from their mothers would lead to emotional instability.  

Not so fast.

“Instead, the stress led to resilience,” writes Kelly.  “As they grew up, the monkeys who had experienced early life stress were less anxious than the more sheltered monkeys.  They explored new environments and showed greater curiosity toward new objects—a young monkey’s version of courage.  They were quicker to solve new mental challenges that the experimenters gave them.  

“As juveniles—the equivalent of teenagers—the previously stressed monkeys even showed greater self-control.  All of these effects lasted into adulthood.”

Interestingly, the monkeys who had experienced early-life stress developed larger prefrontal cortexes, resulting in dampened fear responses, improved impulse control, and increased positive motivation.  

While no one wants more stress in their life, Kelly observes, “we can take comfort in the research that shows how stressful experiences can themselves be protective.” 

More tomorrow.
_____________________

Reflection: What surprises me about Kelly’s research?  Consider a stressful episode in my life.  Thinking back now, what did I learn as a result of this experience?  What does my experience suggest about future stressful periods?

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

What makes a great person great?

Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors and thought leaders.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.  In the world.

Last Friday, we looked at why great organizations focus on “who” before “where.”

As Jim Collins shares: They get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus before they decide where to drive the bus.  

In other words, to make our organizations better, we need to focus tremendous effort and energy on hiring great people.

The question then becomes: What makes a person great?  

That’s the challenge with the word “great”: if we ask 100 people for their definition of the word great, we likely will get dozens of different answers.  

At PCI, we have a very specific definition of the word “great.”

Someone is great for us, if and only if, that person shares our values.  

Before we ever look at someone’s resume or evaluate their experience, we begin by assessing whether this person shares our values.  Someone could be the greatest salesperson or editor or software developer in the world.  If he or she doesn’t share our values, we are not interested.  

Period.  Hard stop.

How do we assess if someone is a values fit?

First, we worked with Professor Blake Hargrove, a PhD in Organizational Behavior, to design an online survey that specifically evaluates how aligned prospective associates are with our five values.

Second, our screening and subsequent interviews are specifically designed to gauge if someone shares our values.

If the answer is yes, we then assess on skills, talent, experience, and passion.

_________________________

Reflection:  How might we better use our values in our hiring process?  

Action: Start a discussion with my team or a colleague to map out a plan.

Why has worldwide prosperity increased so dramatically? 

Today we take it for granted if we want some milk, we can walk into a convenience store and it will be waiting for us on refrigerated shelf.  We know the milk won’t be diluted or tainted.  The price will be something we can afford.  And, the store’s owner will let us walk out with it after swiping a card, even though we’ve never met, may never see each other again, and have no friends in common to vouch for us, Steven Pinker observes in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

“A few doors down I could do the same with a pair of jeans, a power drill, a computer, or a car,” writes Steven.

This reality is a recent phenomenon.

For thousands of years, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, life for human beings was “nasty, brutish, and short.” 

This week we’ve been exploring ideas around the Industrial Revolution and the truly revolutionary increase in prosperity that capitalism has created. RWD Monday, RWD Tuesday, RWD Wednesday.

How did this happen?

“The most obvious cause was the application of science to the improvement of material life,” Steven tells us.  “The machines and factories of the Industrial Revolution, the productive farms of the Agricultural Revolution, and the water pipes of the Public Health Revolution could deliver more clothes, tools, vehicles, books, furniture, calories, clean water, and other things that people want than the craftsmen and farmers of a century before.”

As historian William Rosen writes: The greatest innovation of the Industrial Revolution was innovation itself.  “Not simply a huge increase in the number of new inventions, large and small, but also the process of invention itself.” 

One innovation created another innovation which created another innovation, and on and on and on…

“The invention of the barometer in 1643, which proved the existence of atmospheric pressure, eventually led to the invention of steam engines,” Steven writes.  “Other two-way streets between science and technology included the application of chemistry, facilitated by the invention of the battery, to synthesize fertilizer, and the application of the germ theory of disease, made possible by the microscope, to keep pathogens out of drinking water and off doctors’ hands and instruments.”

It begins with science but two other innovations also played a key role. 

“One was the development of institutions that lubricated the exchange of goods, services, and ideas – the dynamic singled out by Adam Smith as the generator or wealth,” Steven writes.  “In 18th century England, cronyism gave way to open economies in which anyone could sell anything to anyone, and their transactions were protected by the rule of law, property rights, enforceable contracts, and institutions like banks, corporations, and government agencies that run by fiduciary duties rather than personal connections.”

Also important was a third factor: a change in societal values.  

“Aristocratic, religious, and martial cultures have always looked down on commerce as tawdry and venal,” Steven observes.  “But in 18th-century England and the Netherlands, commerce came to be seen as moral and uplifting.”  Focus shifted to propriety, thrift, self-restraint, and an orientation toward the future rather than the past.  In time, dignity and prestige were given to merchants and inventors rather than just soldiers, priests, and courtiers, Steven notes.

What Steven calls “the Great Escape” in Britain and the Netherlands was quickly followed by escapes in the Germanic states, the Nordic countries, and Britain’s colonial offshoots in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. 

In the last fifty years, he notes the Great Escape has become the Great Convergence:  “Countries that until recently were miserably poor have become comfortably rich, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. (My Singaporean former mother-in-law recalls a childhood dinner at which her family split an egg four ways,” Steven recalls). 

“Since 1995, 30 of the world’s 109 developing countries, including countries as diverse as Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Panama, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, have enjoyed economic growth rates that amount to a doubling of income every eighteen years.

“Another 40 countries have had rates that would double income every thirty-five years, which is comparable to the historical growth rate of the United States,” Steven comments.  

“By 2008 the world’s population, all 6.7 billion of them, had an average income equivalent to Western Europe in 1964.  

“And no, it’s not just because the rich are getting even richer,” Steven observes.  “Extreme poverty is being eradicated, and the world is becoming middle class.”

More to come in future Rise With Drew posts.  

___________________________

Reflection:  Take a moment to be grateful to be alive at this moment in history.

Action:  Journal about it.

What causes wealth?

Today, most discussions about poverty involve who is to blame for it, observes Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

This line of thinking is misguided, he believes.  

Poverty needs no explanation.

“In a world governed by entropy and evolution, it is the default state of humankind.  Matter does not arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things do everything they can to avoid becoming our food,” Steven observes.  

“As Adam Smith pointed out, what needs to be explained is wealth,” writes Steven. 

To put it succinctly, “Poverty has no causes.  Wealth has causes,” the economist Peter Bauer tells us. 

This week RWD Monday and RWD Tuesday we’ve looked at the graph showing human progress over time.  Prosperity did not improve gradually.  There was little or no progress for thousands of years.  Then, around 1800, the Industrial Revolution happened, and nothing has been the same since.

What was life like – for thousands of years – prior to the Industrial Revolution?

The endurance of poverty was the reality.  “If you could afford to buy bread to survive another day, you were not poor,” writes Steven referencing historian Johan Norberg.

Johan quotes the childhood reminiscence of a contemporary of one of his ancestors from 1868 in Sweden, one of the wealthiest countries in the world at the time:  “We often saw mother weeping to herself, and it was hard on a mother, not having any food to put on the table for her hungry children.  Emaciated, starving children were often seen going from farm to farm, begging for a few crumbs of bread.  

“One day three children came to us, crying and begging for something to still the pangs of hunger.  Sadly, her eyes brimming with tears, our mother was forced to tell them that we had nothing but a few crumbs of bread which we ourselves needed.  When we children saw the anguish in the unknown children’s supplicatory eyes, we burst into tears and begged mother to share with them the crumbs that we had.  Hesitantly she acceded to our request, and the unknown children wolfed down the food before going on to the next farm, which was a good way off from our home.  The following day all three were found dead between our farm and the next.”

“In wealthy Genoa, poor people sold themselves as galley slaves every winter,” writes Steven.  “In Paris, the very poor were chained together in pairs and forced to do the hard work of cleaning the drains.  In England, the poor had to work in workhouses to get relief, where they worked long hours for almost no pay. Some were instructed to crush dog, horse and cattle bones for use as fertilizer, until an inspection of a workhouse in 1845 showed that hungry paupers were fighting over the rotting bones to suck out the marrow.”

These anecdotes capture the reality of human life for many less than two hundred years ago.

“We are led to forget the dominating misery of other times in part by the grace of literature, poetry, romance, and legend, which celebrate those who lived well and forget those who lived in the silence of poverty,” writes economist Nathan Rosenberg and legal scholar L. E. Birdzell Jr.  “The eras of misery have been mythologized and may even be remembered as the golden ages of pastoral simplicity.  They were not.”

Our political debates today surround how wealth should be distributed.  This presupposes, Steven observes, that wealth worth distributing exists in the first place.

“Economists speak of a ‘lump fallacy'” writes Steven, “in which a finite amount of wealth has existed since the beginning of time, like a lode of gold, and people have been fighting over how to divide it up ever since.”

How much as human wealth, progress, and prosperity increased?

“If the pie we were dividing in 1700 was baked in a standard nine-inch pan, then the one we have today would be more than ten feet in diameter,” Steven reflects.  “If we were to surgically carve out the teensiest slice imaginable – say, one that was two inches at its widest point-it would be the size of the entire pie in 1700.”

Many people today believe we are living in the worst of times.  The data tells a very different story.  

More tomorrow.

________________________________

Reflection:  Why has capitalism made such an impact on worldwide prosperity and the quality of human life?

Action: Journal about it.